The Greatest Threat

I have a new heroine; her name is Halla, she’s a 49-year old Icelandic choir conductor and a fearless eco-warrior waging a one-woman war against energy corporations. Cycling around remote areas of Iceland armed with a saw and bow-and-arrow, she sabotages energy pylons, at one point hiding her face under a Nelson Mandela face mask as the authorities chase her with helicopters and drones.


Sadly, she’s not real, but the quirky protagonist in Woman at War, a fabulous film by the Icelandic director Benedikt Erlingsson.

How I wish she was real though, or how I wish I were her! For the world is in dire need of people who act not out of greed and a desire for power, but out of respect for the natural world as well as fellow human beings.

In response to the state of Alabama passing a law – by a vote of 25-6 – that bans abortion in almost every case, including incest and rape, my brother posted this comment on Facebook:

“At this point, I feel that Margaret Atwood is like, ‘uh, I did not write The Handmaid’s Tale as an instruction book.’”

For who can ignore the very real parallels between Atwood’s dystopian novel about a totalitarian state that controls and politicises the bodies of fertile women, and the draconic laws imposed on women’s bodies not just in Alabama, but in Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia, states that recently passed laws banning abortion if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected.

While pouring outrage onto the lawmakers responsible for these abortion laws, let’s not forget that the United States is not alone in having some of the most restrictive and punitive abortion laws in the world. While abortion is legal in England, Scotland and Wales, it constitutes a criminal offence in Northern Ireland, unless the pregnancy puts the woman’s life at risk. And in the tiny British territory of Gibraltar abortion is punishable by life imprisonment.

As many opponents of the new Alabama law has pointed out, the 25 senators who voted it through were all white men. Is history not repeating itself? Are we not moving around in circles, failing abysmally to learn from the past? Could it even be the case that human progress has reached the end of what we’re capable of as a species?

While technological and scientific progress continues to seduce us into turning a blind eye to the huge environmental costs that such development demands, our ability as human beings to rise above ego, pride, greed and lust for power is much more limited. All those dystopian novels and movies from when I was young, labelled as science fiction, well, they don’t seem so fictional anymore.

Speaking of rich white men with big egos and unchecked power. Is there anything more dangerous in the world than that type of human? As evidenced by the 25 Alabama senators, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Jair Bolsonaro, to name but a few contemporary examples, the greatest threat to women, poor and marginalised people, and our planet as a whole is rich white men.

That is why we desperately need people like my fictional Icelandic heroine.


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